Houston, we have a problem… and the problem is that we can’t quite bring ourselves to admit that a problem exists.
Sometimes in life, ‘bottoming out’ is incredibly valuable. When there is nowhere to hide from reality, choices become limited and we’re forced to take action. So, if there’s a positive to be gained from the Wallabies Spring Tour, it must surely be the acceptance of the hard truth that our scrum is a shambles.
In what is becoming a worrying trend, Wallabies coaches and players continue to talk about the ‘perception’ of our scrum, shedding the ‘tag’ we have as weak scrummagers, or feeling hard done by over fifty-fifty calls.
This self-deception must be replaced with the acknowledgement that improvement always begins by recognising truth, and that the most important improvements are usually born from the most uncomfortable truths.
It may already be too late, but we have to act now. We need the very best experts in the game involved in the coaching of our scrum. And we need it yesterday. Or we will find ourselves in yet another nightmare, another scrum, another graveyard.
As a winger, I spent most of my career viewing scrums as little more than brief opportunities to catch my breath. But even I can see that Wallabies prospects of World Cup success are going backwards in lockstep with our scrum.
As England dismantled us time and again, I couldn't help feel that I’d seen this movie before, and really not very long ago. In 2005, as Twickenham vibrated to another “Sweet Chariot”, the Red Roses so thoroughly destroyed the Wallabies pack that many people rightly feared for the safety of our front row forwards.
And while Sunday morning's performance wasn’t quite the capitulation of nine years ago, there remains little chance of recapturing 'Bill' if we cannot address this glaring problem.
A few months ago I attended a lecture at Google, where former Wallabies and current Brumbies scrum coach Dan Palmer gave a lecture on the finer parts of the dark art of scrummaging.
Like most of the Googlers in the room, I left the presentation with a new-found appreciation for both the technicality of scrummaging, and the mindset required to form an effective and cohesive eight-man unit.
Front row forwards appear to form a kind of subculture within a team. The really good ones seem to directly link scrummaging to their personal identity. Their bio reads: scrummager first, rugby player second.
Perhaps this attitude is engendered by the inability to hide from the humiliation of literally being shoved backwards by one's opponent. For tough men standing shoulder to shoulder with mates, being shoved around is unacceptable; being shoved around in the cauldron of Twickenham under the glare of millions must be unbearable.
Michael Cheika will have learned much from his first exposure to a Wallabies tour. He will know that the Wallabies have developed genuine depth in their backline, one that served quality set piece ball, can compete with any team in the world.
He will also have learned that the gap between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is closing disturbingly fast, and that home ground advantage could be the vital tipping point during the World Cup.
He will understand that he has no time to implement radical changes to the Wallabies style of play. This means he must focus on the elements of our game where we can leverage the most improvement in the shortest time.
Most importantly, with the World Cup under 12 months' away, he will know that he needs to find or develop players who love scrummaging more than they love rugby.
Flight Centre is an official travel agent for Rugby World Cup 2015.